I love when shows have a lot of artistic detail. It’s like there’s tons of little treasures hidden in every single frame. However, there are times when too much of a good thing can ruin the potential greatness. Gankutsuou, a show that has just as much style as it does plot, is one example that teeters on the edge between a work of art and a fabulous mess. Watching more than a few episodes could quite possibly leave you with a minor headache. However, that style is a part of its charm and it just wouldn’t be the same without it. So, how does something like Katanagatari, a show somewhere on cusp between gorgeous detailed craft and refined simplicity, fair?
Katanagatari can be divided into two parts: the background and the characters. At first glance the difference between the two seem rather jarring. On one side you have a lush and detailed background and layered on top is this bare and stripped down character designs. Take a look at the epic staring contest above. What immediately strikes your eyes is the vibrancy of the characters. They may be simple but what they lack in detail they make up for in color vibrancy. It’s only after you take in the characters that you notice the absolute awesome shoji screen printing in the background.
And this is how Katanagatari is able to perfectly balance its two rather odd style choices. The vibrancy of the characters pulls them out from the background but at the same time the simplicity of the characters highlights the details of the background. In a way it is very reminiscent of old style Japanese ink painting. In traditional Japanese art the human form itself is stylized but incredibly simplistic just like Katanagatari and while the human figure in traditional paintings are usually solitary in the work of art (simple or no background) what takes the art to a new level is the amount of detail in the clothing.
What I also find amazing is how well close ups work in Katanagatari. In some ways it’s like zeroing in on the most least developed part of a picture but I feel it’s able to pull that off because of it’s simplicity. The few lines it takes to create the shape of our character here completely contrasts with the writing in the background. In some sense, despite that contrast and the apparent differences in the styles, they are still very much alike. The brush strokes that make up the writing and the background feel just like the lines that make up our main character.
(A game called Okami also chose to do this with its art direction, using very simplistic character designs with lush and detailed backgrounds. It was all done in an Ink Wash Painting style that was absolutely beautiful to behold and to an extent Katanagatari does the same thing. It’s just the link between the two different styles may not be all that apparent at first.)
There are times when I feel like an art style doesn’t particularly fit a show and there are times when the designers hit the nail right on the head and this is one of those shows. Katanagatari is so simplistically beautiful that I could stare at it all day. And that’s most certainly a good thing, since, even though it does have its moments, Katanagatari really isn’t all about the action. Still, if your looking for a bizarre treat for the eyes there’s no reason you shouldn’t give this a shot.